Reliability and Validity of Computerized Force Platform Measures of Balance Function in Healthy Older Adults

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Abstract

Background and Purpose:

Postural control declines with aging and is an independent risk factor for falls in older adults. Objective examination of balance function is warranted to direct fall prevention strategies. Force platform (FP) systems provide quantitative measures of postural control and analysis of different aspects of balance. The purpose of this study was to examine the reliability and validity of FP measures in healthy older adults.

Methods:

This study enrolled 46 healthy elderly adults, mean age 67.67 (5.1) years, who had no history of falls. They were assessed on 3 standardized tests on the NeuroCom Equitest FP system: limits of stability (LOS), motor control test (MCT), and sensory organization test (SOT). The test battery was administered twice within a 10-day period for test-retest reliability; intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs), standard error of measurement (SEM), and minimal detectable change based on a 95% confidence interval (MDC95) were calculated. FP measures were compared with criterion clinical balance (Mini-BESTest and Functional Gait Assessment) and gait (10-m walk and 6-minute walk) measures to examine concurrent validity using Pearson correlation coefficients. Multiple linear regression analysis examined whether age and activity level were associated with FP performance. The α level was set at P < .05.

Results:

SOT composite equilibrium scores, MCT average latency, and LOS end point excursion measures all demonstrated excellent test-retest reliability (ICC = 0.90, 0.85, and 0.77, respectively), whereas moderate to good reliability was found for SOT vestibular ratio score (ICC = 0.71). There was large variability in performance in this healthy elderly cohort, resulting in relatively large MDC95 for these measures, especially for the LOS test. Fair correlations were found between LOS end point excursion and clinical balance and gait measures (r = 0.31-0.49), and between MCT average latency and gait measures only (r = −0.32). No correlations were found between SOT measures and clinical balance and gait measures. Age was only marginally significantly (P = .055) associated with LOS end point excursion but was not associated with SOT or MCT measures, and activity level was not associated with any of the FP measures.

Conclusion:

FP measures provided reliable information on balance function in healthy older adults; however, small learning effects were evident, particularly for the SOT. The SEM and MDC95 for the LOS and SOT measures were relatively large for this healthy elderly cohort. A relationship between FP measures, which assess underlying balance mechanisms, and clinical balance and gait measures was not strongly supported in this study. Further research is needed to justify the value of adding FP measures to a test battery for balance assessment in older adults without a history of falls.

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